April 1, 2010

My zoning comments

Reviewing the draft zoning law and assembling comments took a lot longer than I'd planned (and yes, this is really only two pages in print). I'll expand on this further here in more postings, but I'd definitely be curious what other folks think of these. The draft documents - law and map - are available here.

Dear Town Board, Planning Board, and staff,

After following the Comprehensive Plan and a few other planning processes in Dryden, I'm happy to see a draft zoning law emerging from the process. I appreciate the hard work that went into it, and for the most part, I'm pleased with the balances the zoning attempts to strike.

I do, however, have a few concerns regarding odd prohibitions, and one broader concern about the Optional Traditional Neighborhood Development Overlay District (OTNDO) definition.

I think the Town is making a strange combination of mistakes with the current layout of Neighborhood Density Overlay Districts on the map and the definition of the OTNDO. When these overlays were first described earlier in the zoning process, I understood that they would be an optional tool the Town could use to allow denser development through an explicit approval process.

Looking closely at the draft and map, I was surprised to find that the overlays are scattered across the Town, but also that the density allowed is only six units per acre - the densest specified in the draft, but not that big a difference from the four units per acre already allowed in most zones where water and sewer are available. This doesn't quite add up. It seems odd, for example, to permit higher density to the east of Varna along 366 than is permitted in the hamlet itself, the supposedly critical node.

I would strongly recommend removing the NDODs from the current map. They seem mostly to create panic about the potential impact of zoning without actually accomplishing much. That might also make it possible to increase the density permitted in those districts (perhaps to 8?), to be applied as a planning tool that offers developers something of interest through an accountable political process managed by elected officials.

One large parcel that might reasonably receive that designation eventually is 56.-5-33, the 46.75 acre lot at the corner of Game Farm Road and Route 366, a parcel I consider the best place for dense development in the Town. The parcel is currently used by Cornell University for agriculture, and while I support that use, I see no good reason for the Town to limit it to agriculture for the future. It's a large and easily-developed parcel with access to water and sewer, as well as frontage on two roads, making it easier to distribute traffic. It's within easy walking distance of "downtown" Varna, and walking or biking distance from Cornell.

I'd strongly encourage the Town and Planning Boards to consider designating this parcel with hamlet zoning for the present. Agricultural use could continue there as long as Cornell wanted, but future development there could reinforce Varna while taking stress off roads in the rest of Dryden. (This was also marked agricultural in the Comprehensive Plan's Future Land Use map, a mistake I hope can be corrected in the zoning.)

The remainder of my current concerns are mostly focused on the Rural Residential zone the Town is applying to places that are more or less suburban.

The draft I have of the zoning ordinance prohibits Workshop/Garage in Rural Residential zones (p.22). Given the long history of woodworking as a specifically suburban hobby, I have a hard time seeing the point of prohibiting such shops, especially when they're limited to 350 square feet, in the RR zone. They're permitted in all other districts, not even requiring a special permit. I could, for example, build a shop in the conservation zone behind my house, but not on my current parcel. Of course, if I wanted to establish a "Business Group" Artist Studio/Craft Workshop, I could apply for a special permit, so this seems like an especially odd restriction on amateur pursuits. Please change the X to a P or at least to an SP.

The definition of Artist Studio/Craft Workshop is itself a little vague:

Artist Studio/ Craft Workshop - A place where artists, artisans, craftsman and other skilled tradespeople produce custom-made art or craft products, where they teach such skills, and/or where they sell such products. (p. 6)

The boundaries on that - what scale of commerce it applies to - are far from clear. Does it apply to people who join the Ithaca Art Trail? How much producing, teaching, or selling do I have to do before my work becomes a zoning problem? And if such work is in a residence, is it regulated under Home Occupation, where Level 1 explicitly prohibits signs? I think I understand the intent - AS/CW is meant for bigger operations - but fear that the draft is too vague on these matters.

I spent a while trying to figure out whether I could put up a sign in front of my house indicating that I had eggs or honey for sale. That seems to be an "Agriculture-Related Enterprise", and therefore banned from Rural Residential. I recognize that large-scale agriculture-related businesses might not be a good fit for Rural Residential, but find the side effects of this approach to be far too restrictive.

I wish the Town luck in its zoning revision process, and hope that these issues can be addressed easily.

Posted by simon at April 1, 2010 12:43 PM in ,
Note on photos


Hilary Lambert said:

I'd like to add a comment about the proposed expansion of the Commercial-Light Industry designation to include all of Lower Creek Road from Monkey Run to Rte 13, and Hanshaw Road from the SPCA to Monkey Run.
Presently, the Commercial-Light Industry designation is reserved for the commercial areas right on Route 13.
I have asked the town to retain this present designation, although allowing a commercial designation to be provided to the one nonconforming business, Malbox Inc, on Hanshaw Road. (Which should not have been allowed there in the first place.)
Hanshaw Road from Mailbox Inc to the corner of Lower Creek/Monkey Run is backed by a wetland. This wetland extends into the backyards of all the properties along this stretch of road, and there is a high-quality stream draining from this wetland to Fall Creek at the Lower Creek Road/Monkey Run intersection.
It is environmentally irresponsible to our water resources and habitat protections to redesignate this sensitive wetlands area as Commercial-Light Industry.
This change would also come as a great shock to the long-established residential area along Hanshaw Road (my family has lived here since 1950).
The same concern applies for the stretch of Lower Creek Road from Monkey Run to Route 13 that is being proposed for redesignation as Commercial-Light Industry. I am sure that the folks who have lived in this quiet neighborhood for a half-century, nowadays backed up against the radio station, Armory etc -- would be dismayed if the final protection of their remaining neighborhood tranquility was removed. Further, the Fall Creek area across Lower Creek Road needs this residential buffer, not bright lights and trucks and parking lots!
Although I have been informally reassured that the planning board "may" return the areas listed to residential only, with an exception for Mailbox Inc., I am going to carry letters to all my neighbors in this area to inform them of this proposed rezoning of their residential properties to Commercial-Light Industry, as they are largely unaware that this proposed change is under consideration.
I will provide them with the contact info needed to make their opinions known.